Mary Magdalene: thoughts on her feast day

Today 22 July is the feast day of St Mary Magdalene.

I love this image of a detail of a mosaic in the Resurrection Chapel in Washington National Cathedral, D.C in the USA. It shows Mary Magdalene meeting the risen Jesus Christ.

Mary Magdalene has been the subject of so much speculation, denigration, imagination and admiration over the last 2000 years, it's hard to sort truth from legend and fiction. I prefer to stick to what the 4 Gospels in the New Testament tell us about her and also notice what they do not tell us.

Here is who Mary Magdalene was not:

  • Mary Magdale was not one of the other Marys in the New Testament e.g. Mary mother of Jesus or Mary sister of Martha and Lazarus of Bethany.
  • Mary Magdalene was not a prostitute, although she has been portrayed as such.
  • Mary Magdalene was almost certainly not the anonymous sinful woman who annointed Jesus' feet in the house of Simon the Pharisee.
  • Mary Magdalene was not Jesus' wife or mother of his child.
  • Mary Magdalene was not the woman in the musical 'Jesus Christ Superstar' or in the novel 'The Da Vinci Code'.

Here is who Mary Magdalene was:

  • Mary Magdalene was someone Jesus healed of 'seven demons'. Whatever that meant she was set free to follow Jesus.
  • Mary Magdaleneand probably came from Magdala near Capernaum in the Galilee.
  • Mary Magdalene was a devout follower of Jesus.
  • Mary Magdalene was leader of a group of women who supported Jesus in his travelling ministry (Luke 8: 1 - 3)
  • Mary Magdalene was present at Jesus' crucifixion.
  • According to John's gospel Mary Magdalene was the 1st of Jesus' followers to meet the risen Jesus.
  • Mary Magdalene is listed first among the resurrection witnesses in Matthew 28:1, Mark 16: 1 - 11, Luke 24: 10, John 20: 11 - 18, 1 Corinthians 15: 5 -8.
  • Mary Magdalene was the 'apostle to the apostles', as Jesus sent her to announce the resurrection to them (John 20: 17 - 18)
  • Whatever Mary Magdalene's leadership role in the early church may or may not have been, you could certainly call her a model disciple of Jesus and so an example to follow. I especially like the simple role model of evangelism. She met Jesus and told others what she had seen and heard. (John 20: 11 - 18).

As often on Christian feast days I turn to poetry for inspiration. I certainly find it in this sonnet for Mary Magdalene written by one of my favourite contemporary Christian posts, Malcolm Guite.


Men called you light so as to load you down,

And burden you with their own weight of sin,
A woman forced to  cover and contain
Those seven devils sent by Everyman.
But one man set you free and took your part
One man knew and loved you to the core
The broken alabaster of your heart
Revealed to Him alone a hidden door,
Into a garden where the fountain sealed,
Could flow at last for him in healing tears,
Till, in another garden, he revealed
The perfect Love that cast out all your fears,
And quickened you with love’s own sway and swing,
As light and lovely as the news you bring.

Malcom Guite

published in Sounding the Seasons and on Malcolm Guite's blog here.